have noticed on Sunday mornings that there seems to be a generation
of people missing from the pews. Yes, we have member of all
ages in our congregation, but the average age of those present in
Episcopal churches on Sunday mornings has risen over the last 30
years from 35 years old to 63. What has been going on?
Maybe our message of Jesus' Grace and God's Kingdom is not being
received because the way we are telling it cannot be
Ten years ago, Alan Mann wrote the book
"Atonement for a Sinless Society," and began a conversation about
the need to reframe the story of the Atonement in ways, and with
language, that reflected the needs and connects with the
circumstances of our current era. Using reputable
scholarship, in particular the book "Recovering the Scandal of the
Cross," by Joel B. Green and Mark D Baker, Mann points out that the
biblical writers themselves had multiple understandings of the
atoning work of the cross of Christ. Mann also shows how,
throughout history, faithful Christians have used those
understanding to make the story of Jesus' crucifixion present and
transformative in their day and age. Ten years ago, Mann
called for a conversation to create the same opportunity for
Christ's atoning work on the cross to be present and transformative
in our day and age.
second edition of "Atonement with a Sinless Society", Mann now
gives us his answer to that question. HIs answer offers us a
profound freedom from what traditionally has been known as sin, but
what we comprehend in our society as Shame.
In the first
section of his book, Mann charts the demise of sin in the
storytelling vocabulary of the defining culture in the West.
This defining culture has not only moved us away from a meaningful
understanding of the historical word sin (and in some cases,
glorifying that same word) but also down a path to the cult of
victimhood and the loss of any coherent moral categories. Perhaps
most tragically, this same path has lead us away from any true
sense of the "other/Other", our fellow humans and God.
In this new paradigm, while we are able
to push away sin and guilt in relation to others, the intensity of
the emphasis on the self this new world offers us has created a
crippling phenomenon, which we label Shame. Shame, our
failure to live to an ideal that we have created for ourselves,
instills in us deep incoherence. We crave a unified sense of
ourselves, but are impotent to attain it. We become lost to
others, and to ourselves.
section of the book, Mann explores the emerging concept of
narrative therapy and the possibility for personal narrative to
construct, deconstruct, and most vitally, reconstruct the
self. In a society of Shame, we create cover stories to
protect us from the fear that our real self will be exposed and we
will be despised. Narrative therapists see their job as providing
freeing counter stories to our cover stories. Mann explains that
conversion, at one level, is nothing more than embracing an
alternative story for the self to inhabit. Therefore, a
narrative approach to the atonement is more likely to engage the
self and society with its meaning. Christian soteriology,
therefore, becomes the joining of the individual's story with the
story of the Christian Community, and with the story of
The third Section of the book introduces
us to the story of the atonement as told through the Passion
Narratives and read through the lens of Shame. In this setting,
Jesus is offered to us as the example of, and power to have,
Coherence. Jesus is able to coherently hold together the
ideal self and the real self, fundamental in constructing a model
of atonement for the "sinless" self. Coherence is simply living
free from shame.
Jesus story of Coherence, Mann offers us the example of Judas as a
prime example of incoherence. Mann recognizes some of the
dangers in such an exploration, and mediates them well. He also
extends the metaphor to all the disciples and their inability to
have consistency between intention and action. Finally, we
too have to ask the question that all the disciples asked in the
Upper Room; has our incoherence caused us to betray our lord as
well? Are we also the Betrayer?
It is on the cross where Jesus proclaims
his ultimate Coherence. The cross is not a declaration that
the narrative of Jesus has collapsed and become unintelligible, nor
is it the ultimate shaming of Jesus. Rather, the cross is the
public reality of the private declaration in the Upper Room.
This had to be so, for narration of intent without significant
action leaves all concerned with no hope for
In the final section, Mann finds a "home"
for encountering and appropriating these narratives of atonement
through the Christian community's continual re-enactment of them in
the Eucharist. The Eucharist becomes a place for the shamed and
isolated self to discover, perhaps for the first time,
transcendence and otherness, to be atoned for, to be reconciled and
to be authored by the Creator of life.
is thrilling and challenging. It inspires true potential for
Jesus' narrative to once again be "Good News" to a society
alienated from "sin." In proclaiming this good news, however,
we need to critically look at our current liturgical constructs and
theological language and ask ourselves if they truly provide
salvation to a world in need, or do they simply make us feel
comfortable on a Sunday morning?
for a Sinless Society: Second Edition by Alan Mann
pg. Copyright 2015. Cascade Books. Eugene